If you were to type “abortion in West Virginia” into a search engine, the first page of results would contain links to several crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) – faith-based, anti-choice organizations that masquerade as medical facilities in order to trick people who are experiencing unplanned pregnancies. West Virginia is burdened with 34 of these fake clinics, one of which (strategically named “Woman’s Choice”) is located less than 50 feet from the state’s sole abortion provider, the Women’s Health Center. They even share a parking lot.
Now, imagine you’re someone seeking abortion care living in the state of West Virginia. You’ve managed to make it past the first hurdle by locating the phone number of the one real clinic and making an appointment, but when you arrive in the parking lot, you find that you’re between two facilities with similar names, both of which seem to indicate they might provide abortion care. Maybe you think about how you’ve often heard the word “choice” surrounding conversations on abortion, so you walk into Woman’s Choice, assuming they’ll tell you if you’re in the wrong location.
Of course, that’s not how it happens. Instead, you give your name and are ushered into a waiting room, where you are kept until your appointment time across the parking lot has long since passed.
This sort of scenario is not at all uncommon, and unfortunately, it’s not the most sinister way CPCs block reproductive health access. For people who come to them unsure of their options, CPCs offer “counseling,” which essentially consists of an untrained volunteer asking probing questions and pressuring the person to carry their pregnancy to term. They’ve also been known to separate people from their clothes or personal belongings to make it more difficult for them to leave, tell people abortion causes breast cancer (it doesn’t), encourage people not to abort because the likelihood of miscarrying is so high (generally speaking, it isn’t), “schedule” someone for an abortion to keep them from seeking real care and so much more.
What’s worse is that many of these CPCs receive government funding for these unregulated and disturbingly deceptive practices. Through marketing themselves as legitimate support centers for pregnant people, offering items like diapers and clothes to people who choose to parent or facilitating adoptions for those that choose not to, they often fly under the radar. But these tactics, though they aren’t blatantly aimed at blocking reproductive health access, are still often coercive and deceitful.
Many CPCs offer items through a points system, requiring prospective parents to do things like attend a Bible study or parenting class to earn them; in some cases, a prenatal visit would earn the same number of points as a church service. Oftentimes, this support ends after a person passes the point at which they can abort. More adoption-focused CPCs tend to aggressively target low-income areas and minority communities with the goal of both preventing people in these communities from aborting their pregnancies and convincing them that they aren’t fit to parent.
Many of these CPCs receive government funding for these unregulated and disturbingly deceptive practices.
Despite the lack of governmental oversight in these faux medical organizations, there are still efforts to combat their unchecked operations in West Virginia. WV FREE, the state’s leading reproductive justice nonprofit, which fights to ensure access to comprehensive reproductive health care for all West Virginians, is currently undergoing a public education campaign to expose CPCs’ dishonest practices and encourage local lawmakers to pass bills forcing them to disclose to the public that they’re not medical facilities.
In partnership with Lady Parts Justice League, WV FREE brought the national #ExposeFakeClinics week of action to West Virginia, increasing awareness of the issue and building support for future legislative battles. If WV FREE is successful in their push for greater accountability for CPCs, it will be an important step towards increased transparency on a national level, adding to the success of a similar ordinance in Seattle, Washington and building a model for future state and federal efforts.